Better Block RVA, 60 Days to Change.

Robinson Theater Community Arts Center (c/o Better Block RVA)

In the four years since the East End Vision charette and subsequent design plan for the N 25th street corridor, little has changed. The historic commercial corridor still struggles with vacancies and a perceived lack of safety, desirability, and activity. All that will change soon. On Tuesday March 12, more than 60 people gathered for the walk and talk of Richmond’s first Better Block program. This effort is thanks to the support of Bon Secours Community Hospital, Sports Backers and Bike Walk RVA, the 1000 and 1100 blocks of N 25th street will be transformed on the 13th and 14th of June, just 60 days from now.

Better Block is the brainchild of Jason Roberts, a Dallas, TX resident turned community activist and planner. Frustrated by the limitations and emptiness of his neighborhood commercial center he led a group of volunteers to create the neighborhood center they desired. His Tedx talk further outlines the development of this program and some of the benefits that come from this kind of hands on planning. Roberts believes it’s not the large scale projects that make community centers, but the collection of small businesses and spaces focused on local organic growth, support, and identity.

Unlike traditional top down planning which aims to predict all possible outcomes and factors prior to change, Better Blocks create the vision and hope for the best. To date, only good has come from it. Working without traditional timelines, budgets, or managerial structure, the project is only as successful as the enthusiasm, creativity, and teamwork of the community. Based on the initial meeting’s crowd, this block will not only be successful, but also representative of the unique culture and community of Richmond and North Church Hill.

Despite walking along the corridor many times before, traveling as a group brought a fresh perspective of visioning for the spaces and structures. Older residents told stories of what used to exist along the corridor pointing out the bakery, ice cream shop, and night time hot spots. Property owners were present and excited to open the doors of their vacant buildings and invite people inside to share their ideas of what could be. One such shop revealed a beautiful urban courtyard. Those brave enough to wander inside shared their visions of outdoor concerts, cafe lunches, and even a late night dancing spot.

The beauty of the Better Block program is its inspiration for creating change. It gives entrepreneurs a boost for starting a new business, proves the desirability of an area, and displays to city officials, that perceived barriers aren’t an issue. Many better blocks result in policy changes as well as creation of long lasting businesses.

Everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate, whether it be running a pop-up shop, helping with set-up, loaning your spare folding chairs, or even just visiting the block in June, mark your calendars and get excited. Visit the Better Block RVA website to volunteer and keep updated on the process.

Written by Susanna Parmelee, Public Engagement Intern, PSG


Shockoe Stadium: Mayor’s Proposal Before Council on Monday Puts Cart Before the Horse

PSGsmalllogoNo matter which side of the debate members of the public and the City Council stand on the Mayor’s proposal for the stadium and Shockoe Bottom, good public process and decision-making must be allowed to prevail.  The best decisions result from a transparent, comprehensive, and objective analysis of all facts, impacts, and alternatives, involving informed and engaged stakeholders.  These steps are essential to foster confidence in local government and greater support and ownership of the ultimate decision.

A number of weeks ago, our organization, the Partnership for Smarter Growth (PSG), sent a letter to the Mayor and City Council expressing concern with lack of public process in advance of the release of the Mayor’s Revitalize RVA proposal for Shockoe Bottom and the Boulevard.  What we asked for was simple – release as much comparative analysis as possible, and provide a full and fair opportunity for public review, discussion, and evaluation before making a decision on the location of the stadium and the best approach to redevelopment of Shockoe Bottom and the Boulevard.

We are concerned that significant information has still not been provided to the public and City Council sufficient to make the best decision for the city. Moreover, we worry that the new proposed paper before the Council to authorize the Mayor and his staff to negotiate what we believe will be a firm and final deal with the private landowners, developers and the baseball team, puts the cart before the horse.  The Council and the public need much more information on the historical assets at risk in Shockoe Bottom, whether the Bottom is the right location for the stadium, what other economic development approaches are available, and whether we have adequately evaluated traffic, urban design and other issues.  Therefore, we recommend that the Council not authorize the Mayor and staff to proceed with negotiations until the city completes a more thorough comparative up-front planning analysis.

PSG is a non-profit whose mission is to “educate and engage the communities in the Richmond region to work together to improve our quality of life by guiding where and how we grow.”  We are committed to the revitalization of the city, modern regional transit, affordable housing, better access to jobs, and walkable, bicycling-friendly mixed-use neighborhoods. The making of good policy is dependent on the process that leads to a decision – the process that includes full transparency, engaged stakeholders, and diversity of perspectives.  The Mayor’s proposal has, thus far, not followed this course.  We have been presented with a decision made by the Mayor and a small circle of city staff, landowners, and developers. Most of these developers deserve credit for their past investments in the city, but at the same time, they must certainly agree that the best business decisions come from robust discussion and having all of the facts.

PSG doesn’t have a position on the Mayor’s proposal.  Like others, we simply don’t have enough information.  Council members and residents are raising important issues, and here are just a few of the questions we hope will be addressed:

  • Do we have adequate comparative analysis of the potential stadium locations including economic development, tax base, transportation, parking, environment, historic resources, and financing?  If not, what additional information do we need?
  • How does the Mayor’s stadium proposal for Shockoe Bottom and his proposal for the Boulevard compare to alternative economic development strategies and urban design approaches that could be employed for each site?
  • Was there comparative analysis to the strategies recommended in the city’s Shockoe Economic Revitalization Strategy, including the potential for a creative economy hub, a medical sciences and innovation hub, and a historic preservation and tourism-focused approach? That city-sponsored study made no mention of a stadium.
  • Has the city adequately considered how all the pieces will work together in Shockoe Bottom, including the stadium, 17th Street Farmers Market, train shed, slave history, higher speed rail, transit, VCU medical hub, and residential neighborhoods?
  • Do the scale and design of the stadium, grocery store, hotel, and parking structure fit within the historic fabric of the neighborhood and the complex tapestry of its history?
  • Can the site handle the amount of traffic and parking being proposed, and does the proposal incorporate transportation solutions, such as rapid transit service and bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements, to maximize accessibility while minimizing traffic?
  • Does the financing package make sense and is it a good deal for the city, without undue risk?

Unfortunately, the public meetings held during the past few weeks have not provided answers to these and many other questions.  In addition to the questions PSG has raised, we submitted to the Mayor and Council this week a range of questions provided to us by over 60 members of the public who are still asking questions despite the public meetings held over the past few months.

The city has employed open, transparent processes in previous planning efforts with positive results.  For example, the Riverfront Plan, adopted in 2012, is the well-thought-out product of nearly a year of public input sessions and knowledgeable consultants.  More recently, the city provided citizens with opportunities to help program the renovation of the 17th Street Farmer’s Market.

Smart growth isn’t just about the location and design of our communities, but about the public process we use to get there.  We all share a commitment to our city and its future, and we all want to make sure we build the best Richmond for all of our residents, businesses, and visitors. To do so, we must make sure that every stakeholder – from developers and elected officials to citizens and community leaders – has adequate time and information with which to make informed decisions and be actively and constructively engaged in planning for the future of our city.

–  Written by Brianne Mullen

Brianne Mullen is the Executive Director of Partnership for Smarter Growth (PSG), a nonprofit dedicated to educating and engaging the communities in the Richmond region to work together to improve quality of life by guiding where and how the region grows.  For more information, visit

Brown’s Island Dam Walk Presentation

On the night of Tuesday, February 18, the City of Richmond updated residents on the Riverfront Master Plan Implementation with a public presentation. The packed house seemed eager to get the meeting started. While three specific aspects of the plan were discussed (Brown’s Island Dam Walk, Chapel Island Trail, and conversion of the Lehigh Cement Factory into a public park), most of the presentation focused on the Brown’s Island Dam Walk.

Mayor Dwight C. Jones started the presentation off with a welcome. He mentioned that, up to this point, the city’s riverfront assets have grown by default. Now they will grow by design. He talked briefly about how the projects will increase access to the James River and provide linkages between the north and south banks. This message was repeated by all of the speakers.

Speaking specifically about the Brown’s Island Dam Walk, Kirt Rieder (Principal at Hargreaves Associates), gave a history of the dam up to its current state. He then handed things over to Mary Lydecker, the project manager. Details such as the width of the path, number and placement of overlooks, materials used for construction, and potential wayfinding signage were given. The plan is to replace the current decking with bike and pedestrian friendly aluminum grating. Stainless steel mesh will allow for more visibility between the handrail and flooring while still providing safety for all users. The path width will be increased to 10 feet (16 feet at the four overlooks), and a bench will be placed at each overlook. The project’s completion is expected before the 2015 UCI World Road Cycling Championships.

Special attention was placed on the connection to the south bank of the river. The dam walk joins the south bank just west of the Manchester climbing wall. An existing pedestrian bridge provides access over the Norfolk Southern railroad line to the climbing wall, but the current slope from the end of that bridge to the waterfront is too steep to meet ADA regulations. A number of switchback options were given, each with advantages and disadvantages. The option chosen by Hargreaves Associates allows for users of the dam walk to choose between three different paths down to the riverfront (two ramps and one staircase). Each path has a different degree of steepness, and this seemed to please the crowd. The new paths in this area will also utilize bioswales and rain gardens, to try and minimize their impact on the environment.

After presenting on the Brown’s Island Dam Walk, updates on the Chapel Island trail and the park at the Lehigh Cement site were given. The Chapel Island trail was mentioned as the first in a series of projects for Chapel Island. Because of the stormwater management facility located on the island, particular care needs to be placed on the balance between the use of the island by the public works department and the safety concerns associated with public access. The trail will closely follow the southern shore of Chapel Island, providing a more direct link between Brown’s Island and Great Shiplock Park. It will also link up to the Virginia Capital Trail (a pedestrian and bicycle trail which will connect Richmond to Jamestown).

The Lehigh Cement site is located down river from Great Shiplock Park, at the mouth of Gillie Creek. Because the area is popular fishing spot, terraces will be constructed to give users greater access to the river. The Virginia Capital Trail will also run through this park. Expected completion for the trail’s construction is 2015, with the rest of the park opening to the public in 2016.

After the presentations were finished, attendees were given an hour to ask questions. Everyone spoke in favor of the projects, but there were some concerns. A number of questions involved lighting for the dam walk. People were interested in more environmentally friendly options like solar lighting, motion detectors, and turning the lights off completely after a certain hour. The options will be considered, and it was noted that the current proposed lights are LED’s.

Other comments involved giving people more to do on the bridge (public art to view, placards about the wildlife, creating more overlooks, and using mist to keep people cool during the summer). Kirt Rieder stressed that the dam walk is seen as more of a link than a destination. They see the exposed environment as its greatest asset, and the intention is to let the river be the river. They agreed with keeping public art on the bridge as discreet as possible (e.g. incorporating it into benches), and they mentioned that most of the public art will be located on the banks of the river.

One important question involved how to keep the dam walk open while events are taking place on Brown’s Island. Kirt Rieder communicated that they have just begun looking into this issue. They see the bridge as an advantage to the events being held on Brown’s Island and would like to keep it open for this reason.

Overall, people attending the meeting just seemed ready to have this project finished. Although the timetable for completion was given during the presentation, it did not stop two people from asking about it. The residents of Richmond and this region are clearly excited about having more opportunities to enjoy the benefits of the James River.

More information about the project, including the presentation given at the Virginia War Memorial, can be found here

– Written by Nick Quint, VCU Master of Urban and Regional Planning Candidate

Shockoe Stadium – What Should Council Ask?

As you know, we’ve been posting all available information on our website about the Mayor’s proposal for Shockoe Bottom and the Boulevard, in an effort to make it more accessible to the public.  We are encouraged by the many public meetings being held across the city and by the important issues being raised by Council members and residents. This important step for our city must be fully examined, including the comparative merits of the stadium location, other options for revitalization, urban design, financing, historical assets, traffic, and stormwater management. See our November 19, 2013 letter here.

Do you still have questions about the proposal for redevelopment of Shockoe Bottom? 

What questions should Richmond City Council ask before taking a vote?

 Follow a link below to share your questions with us. 

Online Survey



We will compile and share the questions with the Mayor and City Council, ranking the most frequently asked questions first.  Answers will be posted on our  website as soon as they are made available to us.

City Council will consider and may vote on the proposal on Monday, February 24, 2014, at 6 PM.  In addition to the public hearing that evening, at least two more Council member sponsored meetings are scheduled where you can share your opinions and questions:

1st District, Councilman Baliles

  • Wednesday, February 19, 2014; 6 PM; Albert Hill Middle school; 3400 Patterson Avenue (joint meeting with 2nd District)

2nd District, Councilman Samuels

  • Wednesday, February 19, 2014; 6 PM; Albert Hill Middle school; 3400 Patterson Avenue (joint meeting with 1st District)

5th District, Councilman Agelasto

  • Wednesday, February 12, 2014; 6:30 PM; Byrd Park Round House; 600 S. Boulevard

Smart Growth isn’t just about the location and design of our communities, but about the public process we use to get there.  We all share a commitment to our city and its future, and we all want to make sure we build the best Richmond for all of our residents, businesses, and visitors.  To do so, we must make sure that every stakeholder – from developers and elected officials to citizens and community leaders – has adequate time and information with which to make informed decisions and be actively and constructively engaged in planning for the future of our city.

Thank you for your continued participation and support!

Brianne Mullen, Executive Director

Building on our Bones: 6th and 7th District Stadium Meeting Recap

Public meetings should ideally be places of discussion and cooperation between government and community. However, the Shockoe Bottom economic development plan meeting held Saturday, January 25th, at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School was everything but. With most of the Council Districts having already completed their meetings, it seemed everyone, both residents and city officials, knew what to expect and entered the auditorium with predetermined attitudes of frustration. Even in the hallway, opinions were re-enforced as bumper stickers were quietly handed out with the now-infamous “No Baseball Stadium in Shockoe” slogan.

Presentations were heard from both the 6th and 7th District Councilwomen, Ellen F. Robertson and Cynthia I. Newbille, who seemed to scold the public attendees, warning the crowd to hold their questions until the end while simultaneously thanking them for their valued input.

Sylvester Turner, a representative from the Slave Trail Commission, spoke briefly and ineffectively. Never even removing his coat, he spoke in vague language offering a picture of vitality and unity for Shockoe Bottom – such that by the end of his contribution, it was unclear what opinion he actually held regarding the issue. In contrast, the comments directed to Turner were factual, poignant, and emotional. The usual questions were raised regarding the exact location of Lumpkin’s jail and other sites potentially affected by the stadium project’s construction. Turner stated that it was unknown what sites were in the footprint of the stadium. Many in the audience asked the question, if we don’t know what historic resources are present, isn’t it worth finding out before the opportunity is lost forever? When asked why city residents have not been involved in the Slave Trail Commission’s decision to support the project, Turner said that he believed the Commission members to be part of the community, therefore their input satisfies the need for public involvement.

Jack Berry of Venture Richmond offered an emotional lift for the meeting, giving a presentation focusing on the revitalization of downtown Richmond with images of smiling young people holding cups of coffee and enjoying folk music. This was offered as a contrast to rain soaked buildings and puddled streets, undoubtedly, to illustrate the city’s desired transition from an outdated industrial city to a vibrant millennial community. Berry offered several compliments to the city, saying that it was unlike any other place he had been, with a friendly community and beautiful architectural bones. The official plans and images for the site were presented by Berry, with no new information revealed, but with the same salesmanship experienced at past meetings. Photographs of the project site were overlaid with the location of the four bases to place the project in perspective. This method of presentation created a shrunken view of the project making the plan seem geographically small, when in reality the total plan spans several city blocks and streets, interrupting the city grid.

Berry expressed the need for more housing downtown, but due to the below grade nature of the Shockoe Valley and tendency for flooding there are special considerations that must be made in order to build apartments on the site. He stated there are three options for development in Shockoe: to tunnel Shockoe creek under the river, to create emergency evacuation bridges connecting to higher ground, or to build a baseball stadium. No other alternatives appear possible.

Chief administrative officer, Byron Marshall was present to explain the financial aspects of the project. He outlined the promises and contributions from bonds, developers, and the Richmond Squirrels that would ideally leave the city with little to no financial responsibility. Noticeably absent from these calculations was the funding for the Lumpkin’s jail site museum, which is reliant upon the promise of state funds and much public fundraising. This aspect of the plan is crucial for appeasing public uneasiness about building upon the historic sites – leaving it out of financial consideration seems unappreciative towards community sentiment. Also absent from this discussion was a description for the type and, more importantly, affordability of the proposed new housing.

When it was finally time for public comment, one of the first residents to speak asked, “I thought this was a community meeting, why have we been left only 15 minutes for our questions?” This didn’t stop those present from asking their questions, and they continued for another hour and a half.

When asked why the stadium could not be rebuilt at the present site on Boulevard with similar development of apartments, hotel, parking, and commercial space, Marshall explained that such a plan would not receive subsidy payments from developers and the baseball franchise and therefore would be dependent on city money. It was not explained, however, why similar payments and agreements could not be reached for potential boulevard development, or whether any attempt had been made to finance such a plan.

Several residents of the East End spoke passionately highlighting the emotion they felt connected to the area of the Slave Trail Walk and their anger at any development, while other citizens’ concerns focused more on the technical aspects of traffic and development. One came prepared with the Timmons Group traffic and parking study of Shockoe, asking both Councilwomen if they had read the document. Neither had. However, the city, came prepared for this opposition bringing in a city traffic engineer who stated there would be no adverse effect of this project on traffic within the city.

Many citizens spoke with passionate and sometimes aggravated tones while representatives from the city did their best to speak calmly and respond to the questions within the lengthy public comments.

There were a few citizens who spoke positively about the possibility of development in Shockoe. One woman even said that she enjoys attending baseball games and definitely feels that a new stadium is needed. Though, she added that she gets her game tickets for free, and would be unlikely to attend future games if she had to pay for them.

While it is easy to focus on the extreme opinions, positive or negative, the common emotion expressed throughout all comments was confusion. With sporadic and poorly publicized meetings, and little in the way of available literature, the public is left without a clear understanding of the Revitalize RVA plan and is feeling underappreciated and, frankly, bamboozled. One resident calmly expressed this confusion when she explained that it feels emotionally wrong to place a commercial entertainment facility on the site of such suffering. Instead she questioned why a park or community open space wouldn’t serve the same purpose with much less investment, providing a central focus for new apartment construction while simultaneously memorializing the history of the past and representing the spirit of the growing city.

Residents of Richmond are proud of their history, invested in their city, and desire to be a part of shaping its future. One citizen said it well in response to Berry’s description of the city and the proposed Shockoe development: “You say that Richmond has great bones, then I am left wondering why we are covering over ours in order to look like the rest of America.”

Written by Susanna Parmelee, Public Engagement Intern, PSG

A Different Kind of Shockoe Bottom Discussion

On Tuesday, January 7, the Valentine Richmond History Center hosted the first event of its 2014 Community Conversation series.  Entitled Shockoe Bottom’s Future, I anticipated that this event would end up becoming yet another debate on the Mayor’s development proposal for Shockoe Bottom and the Boulevard.  To my great pleasure, I was completely wrong.


The night began with a presentation by Bill Martin, the Director of the Valentine Richmond History Center, on the goals for the evening.  He prefaced the conversation with a quick statement that it would not be a debate about the Shockoe stadium proposal, and that when they were planning the Conversation series, they had no idea how “hot” these issues would become.

Instead, they wanted to know more about our (the audience’s) personal experience in Shockoe Bottom.  When we walked into the room, we were handed cards with the following questions typed on them:

What’s your earliest memory of this area or site?

What’s your fondest memory of this area or site?

I haven’t been in Richmond for very long, so I was more interested in what others’ memories were in Shockoe Bottom.  I heard great stories about Main Street Grill, located in the building where the event was held, from 1963 to 1980, and its “vegan before there were vegans” cuisine, great visiting musicians, and something about “slide night” that was very funny to those who were around during that time (I will have to get the scoop on this inside joke later).  I heard people speak about being able to trace their heritage all the way back to the slave auction blocks that were located mere steps from where we were sitting.  I heard about the 17th Street Farmers Market as a destination for weekly grocery shopping, train rides into Main Street Station, a fantastic fish market, flooding from hurricanes, the Flood Zone, and countless other memories of the area.

The conversation was uplifting, even inspiring.  It brought a new sense of what Shockoe Bottom could be to newcomers like me – which was the next topic for discussion.

How do you describe this area to those who have never been there?  How would you want to describe it?

With some outliers, the majority of the audience described their vision of a neighborhood – a distinctive, walkable, bikeable, accessible community for residents, workers, and visitors that honors its rich history and offers something for everyone.

With not much time left, Susan Winiecki, Executive Editor of Richmond Magazine, introduced the two panelists for the evening:  Jack Berry of Venture Richmond presenting the Mayor’s proposal, and Ana Edwards of Defenders for Freedom, Justice, and Equality presenting an alternative vision (without a ballpark) for Shockoe Bottom.

Ana Edwards explained that there is no escaping the history of the slave trade  in Shockoe Bottom, and that we need to be honest about what’s there:  “You can walk it, you can breathe it, you can touch it, you can feel it.”  She fears that the Mayor’s proposal would eliminate this impression.  The alternative vision touches this area lightly to protect it and allow it to grow on its own.

Jack Berry presented the Shockoe stadium proposal on behalf of the City, as the Mayor and his staff were at another community meeting.  He explained that the proposal represents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to completely revitalize this area right now.  He addressed concerns about covering important historical sites by explaining that most of those sites are not located where the new development would go.  His presentation included many renderings of the various parts of the development.

There was little time remaining for questions from the audience, but I am sure the conversation that began at this event continued well into the night and into different places in the following days.

I end with another great point from Bill Martin:

We value these places – Shockoe Bottom, Monroe Park, the James River, Broad Street, and the Boulevard – enough that we will passionately debate their future.  We want to have genuine conversations about them and ensure that our memories from these places, no matter how distant or recent, are preserved.  You don’t see people arguing over land that became Short Pump.  So, have more of these discussions and consider how our region’s past “can positively shape our collective future.”

The Valentine Richmond History Center will be hosting one Community Conversation each month through May, each on a different area of Richmond.  Learn more here.  You can also see videos from the January 7th event here.

Written by Brianne Mullen, Executive Director, PSG

Shockoe Stadium Proposal: Northside District 3 Meeting Recap

December 11, 2013; Northside District 3 Meeting Recap; 6pm, Pine Camp Arts Center

The room at Pine Camp Arts Center was nearly full at 6pm for the 3rd District meeting to discuss the Shockoe Bottom Revitalization Plan.  A table at the entrance was covered with handouts and information both pro- and anti- plan, and two people were stationed at the entrance handing out packets produced by LovingRVA.

David Hicks, Senior Policy Advisor to Mayor Dwight Jones, spoke first on the Shockoe Bottom Revitalization Plan.  Mr. Hicks announced that he would first “frame the issue” for the room: instead of a baseball proposal, this development plan is an economic development proposal with baseball.  He talked about the demographics of Richmond (a city with a growing population and a younger average age than the surrounding counties) and emphasized the poverty rate of Richmond, which is 26.3%.  He also mentioned that Richmonders often shop for groceries and other retail in surrounding counties, which receive those taxes. He mentioned the food desert issue in the East End when talking about the Shockoe Kroger.

Mr. Hicks returned to the issue of poverty throughout his speech, emphasizing that the purpose of the Shockoe development plan is to alleviate poverty.  He also spoke of Richmond’s AA+ bond rating, which has enjoyed six rating increases by Wall Street in the past five years.  Mr. Hicks did mention the importance of the area to African American heritage, noting that half of African Americans in the United States can trace their lineage to the Richmond slave trade.

Third district Councilman Chris Hilbert then read some questions to Mr. Hicks which were collected from meeting attendees. Some of these have been summarized below:

Q)  How does a big box store that does not pay a living wage solve the problem of poverty?

A)   It is premature to answer that question as we do not know which companies will locate there yet; however we should negotiate a living wage with the big box store.

Q)  Is the financial success of the Shockoe development dependent on the financial success of the Boulevard development?

A)   No.  The Boulevard project is the objective, while Shockoe is a break-even proposition.  Remember that the slave trade memorial and learning center will drive up the price of the Shockoe development by $30 million.

Q)  (from Chris Hilbert) What is the plan for the Boulevard?

A)   The plan for the Boulevard obviously needs to be something with community input.  What would the public like to see on the Boulevard? Do you want to see a Whole Foods or an Ikea there? That process hasn’t yet started.

Q)  Does this proposal incorporate transportation solutions like high speed rail or improved bicycle infrastructure to accommodate the significant number of additional visitors to the area?

A)    I disagree that the number of new visitors will be “significant.”  There were 10,000 people at the Bacon Festival and lots come to the Folk Festival each year.  Shockoe is already absorbing lots of people…. (then shifts tone to speak more generally) However, transportation is something we (Richmond) need to improve in order to alleviate poverty.

Q)  I believe in transparency in government and feel that we were given a “take it or leave it” proposal.

A)   It would not have been possible to present two or more plans to the public, with developers lined up and committed and with cost estimates.  “There were never two options.”

Phil Wilayto of Defenders for Freedom, Justice, and Equality, then spoke against the plan. Before speaking he acknowledged that Mr. Hicks is a respectable man who he has known for years. He emphasized the “commitments” in the plan versus the “promises” in the plan and warned that promises are not guaranteed.  He stated that the best parts of the Mayor’s plan are the promises, not the commitments:  $80 million of Shockoe paid for with the “promise” of the Boulevard development; the “promise” of 400 jobs (which he asserts will not be living wage jobs); the “promise” of the $30 million to build the slave heritage site.  He also responded to Mr. Hicks’ reference of a food desert in the east end, stating that a grocery store in Shockoe Bottom would not solve that problem.  Mr. Wilayto spoke of the injustices that the proposal would have on African-American history, asking attendees if they felt comfortable with baseball being played on the site of such human suffering (the slave trade and prison sites).  He also pointed out, as far as he knows,  the Squirrels have not committed to Richmond. Lastly he shared his suspicion that the Shockoe stadium is being pushed to be completed in early 2016 while the Boulevard development won’t be finished until 2018 because Mayor Jones wants to be the one to cut the ribbon, as part of his legacy.

Nearly two and a half hours after the meeting began, questions were still being asked of Mr.  Hicks.